Around Tappan Square
Record Year for Legacies
Oberlin legacies increased by nine from last year, and by 16 from 1999. Joining the Class of 2005 are: Richard Aszling (Philip '65 and Shelia Weber Aszling '66); Jessica Bedwinek (John Bedwinek '67); Emma Blose (Sara Rubin '72); Alexis Bradshaw (Allen Bradshaw '78); Silas Cole (Charles '68 and Liz Ryan Cole '68); Meredith Corey (Brian '69 and Elizabeth Aghajanian Corey '70); Charles Duncanson (Charles Duncanson '81); Leah Fredrickson (Bruce Fredrickson '73); Christopher Fry (Robert Fry '74); Jonathan Green (Jonathan Green '74); Heather Griffin (Thomas Griffin '69); Rachel Henderson (Deborah Watts Henderson '84); Shelley Irvin (Barbara Cain '72); Thomas King (William King '67); Steven Kleinman (Edward Kleinman '77); Lillian Klotz (Robert Klotz '72); Sarah LeBarron von Baeyer (Matthew von Baeyer '59); Claire Lesnick (Daniel Lesnick '68); Jennifer Malkowski (Rick Malkowski '73); Elvira Miller (Rodney '73 and Jane Davis Miller '72); Matthew Mutel (Cornelia Fleischer Mutel '69); Nicholas Ogren (John '75 and Anne Geddes Ogren '76); Barbara Paterson (Johana Arnold Paterson '73); Kristina Pfeifer (Harry '70 and Annie Siu Pfeifer '74); Michael Plank (David Plank '76 and Elizabeth Eldrege '77); Emily Preston (Bethany Queen Preston '71); Emily Racher (Peter Racher '78 and Sarah Binford '78); Steven Reid (Craig '76 and Carmen Hutson Reid '76); Emily Roberts (Helen Hamilton Roberts '74); Luc Schuster (Devon Davidson '66); Samantha Sculnick (Michael Sculnick '72); Matthew Seltzer (Lyn Seltzer '69); Elizabeth Shuey (Deborah Packard-Shuey '73); Ann Stewart (Mark Stewart '69); Jamie Taylor (Robert J. Taylor '61); Monica Thomas (Andrea Liberman Patel '77 and Jason Thomas '76); Catherine Thorton-Stocks (Janet Stocks '79); Laura Vineyard (John Vineyard '69 and Barbara Finlay '72); and Morgan Zernich (Milas '72 and Judith Haskell Zernich '72).
The College isn't as unique as one overused statement implies.
My first exposure to The Saying occurred just hours after arriving at Oberlin for the first time. I was talking with a group of first-years in my dorm, realizing how underwhelmed I was by Oberlin's supposedly radical atmosphere. Several of my dormmates seemed convinced that this school was the most far-out place they could imagine. One student quietly confided in us that she had just seen two men affectionately holding hands.
"Well," said the guy next to her, "only in Oberlin!"
As the others eagerly nodded and chuckled, I was left dumbfounded. Did they truly believe that Oberlin was the only place where gay and bisexual students went to be educated? Over the next few days I heard this statement (or its close relative, "This is Oberlin") uttered countless times in reference to any person, belief, or activity slightly this side of normal. The phrase--sometimes dismissive of those being described, but almost always self-congratulatory and boastful of Oberlin's peculiarity--seemed to be everywhere.
I believe that this ubiquitous affirmation of the school's uniqueness is hyperbolic. Sure, we're more leftist than the folks in nearby Kipton, but should we really engage in the self-righteous "Only in Oberlin" mantra we pad ourselves with daily? I think not.
First, it's not true. There are other progressive campuses in the nation (none of which, in my experience in visiting them, had an "only in..." discourse). Having done time at two large public universities before transferring to Oberlin, I know that the political and social issues there are the same. Students elsewhere organize around issues of diversity, environment, and human rights. Besides, how could we think activism exists "only in Oberlin" when we were topped by Yale in Mother Jones' list of activist campuses this year?
There are also plenty of progressive and diverse individuals and groups outside academia. Gay and lesbian communities, for example, are everywhere, and hearing that they exist "only in Oberlin" ignored my experience as a queer man who has been involved in them. Elsewhere, too, are cooperatives and communities of progressive activists and people of color.
What's more, our school isn't as radical or progressive as the constant use of The Saying would imply. This is not to belittle our rich history of activism and action. But to truly deserve the extensive use of this phrase, we'd have to replace our exclusive, expensive liberal arts college and mostly out-of-state students with something more akin to a free school where community members educate each other at no cost.
And there are other reasons to drop the rhetoric. There are downsides to constant self-congratulation. In constructing the college as a "perfectly progressive" institution, we overlook our problems, such as poor labor relations, sexual assault, and white male privilege. As we graduate and become alumni, we can forget that these problems exist and that we have the power to change them.
This self-righteous attitude causes us to draw an imaginary line between the school and "the rest of the world." This is a problem for current students; it reinforces the Oberlin bubble. Because we see Oberlin as so peerless and reformist, many of us are unwilling to give the rest of Ohio a chance and end up quarantining ourselves within a two-block radius of the school. Alumni, too, are troubled by this imaginary line; there are those who lose track of their radical, progressive, or unconventional qualities. Perhaps they fell into the trap of thinking that once they graduated, it was their duty to enter the "real world" rather than to push for change or seek out other progressive communities.
My point is not that Oberlin is conservative or conventional--the experience of most any student or alum would prove that laughable. But in constantly overstating how radical or unique our school is, we do it a disservice. We should recognize that we're not alone, realize that we're not perfectly progressive, endeavor to fix our own faults, and erase the imaginary barrier between Oberlin and the rest of the world. Only then will we truly help Oberlin live up to its legacy.
Peter Meredith is a biology and politics major from Eugene, Oregon.